Rethinking Pagan Reconstructionism

I’m planning on attending the local Pagan Pride Day this month, and I want to wear my Toga.

But I don’t want to wear my tunica. So we have a problem.

I’m not officially a member of Nova Roma, so I don’t have to abide by their rules. For that matter, I’m not sure what their rules regarding wearing the toga are. But I’m pretty sure that if you wear a toga, you are supposed to wear a tunica under it.

So I’ve been thinking about the nature of a reconstructionist religious movement, and how far we should take it.

The toga wasn’t necessarily a religious garment as much as a cultural one. When in prayer you wore a nice one and covered your head with it. But you know who else wears nice clothes and cover their heads during prayer? Lots of people.

I want to revive the worship of ancient gods. I want to honor them in appropriate ways that they will respond positively to. I do not want to live as a Roman did 2000 years ago.

Don’t get me wrong, my tunica is really comfy and I love wearing the thing. But I don’t have the desire to wear it in public for that particular event. It’s more of an after-work sweatpants substitute than something I am willing to wear at a high-profile event. I’d wear it to an event like Heartland Pagan Festival, but there is a far different social system in play; besides, half the people there are naked anyway.

But the toga demonstrates a cultural identification I want to represent.

Here’s my quandary.

As a reconstructionist, it is implied that I should desire to completely and accurately duplicate all aspects of the culture I am reviving. But in practice, no one expects that. I wear glasses, I don’t slaughter cattle to Iuppater, and I don’t own slaves.

So why should I wear 2000 year old fashion?

And here’s my thought: This isn’t the SCA. This is my effort to reconnect with gods I know to be there that speak to how I function in the world. What am I reconstructing exactly? The glory of a culture long past? Religious practices and cultural traditions that modern society would cringe at?

And that’s why I will often say that my religion is a modern adaptation of the ancient one. My goal is not to recreate the ancient practices exactingly. My goal is to approximate what those practices could have developed into had they not been interrupted, appropriated, and repressed by Christianity.

How would the Roman culture have changed over the centuries? Well, let’s look at where it was and at how it did change, and where it is now, and then reintroduce some elements of the old religion in. We find that family and hospitality are still important, that people are still “superstitious” and respect and honor the dead. We find that many traditions are still extant in some form, and others can be readopted with little adjustment. And other changes are strong and should not be messed with.

Fashion, however, is something that changed greatly and probably would have changed anyway. The Toga was the ancient equivalent of a nice suit jacket. I see no problem with wearing it as if it were one, over normal dress clothes. The toga was abandoned on its own, although I think it’s a great identifier to readopt. But like the kilt, it can be modernized and adapted.

Just like we’re doing to every other aspect of that society.

And to be fair, I think for certain events or positions its just fine to wear a tunica. Just as a Catholic priest wears ritual garments hundreds of years out of place. But for non-ritual events, I don’t see it as necessary.

So my religion is more like science fiction that I’d like to admit (as the Chaoist in me giggles). What would a non-Christian Rome have turned into? How can I flavor my worship with that?

I’ve got a lot of thinking on this to do.

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One response to “Rethinking Pagan Reconstructionism

  1. What would a non-Christian WORLD been like? Harry Harrison’s “The Hammer and the Cross” trilogy takes a good look at that.

    I decided to broom the whole reconstruction thing to the curb myself. British Traditional Witchcraft has its own very strict subculture, and I got tired of the snobbery and mean-spiritedness of some of them. And I was -initiated- in that trad. They are really into pedigree, and those who fall short- or worse, pretend to be one of them, get swiftly corrected. Many of them are very private- some aren’t online at all.

    As for fashion, the garb of the 21st Century TechMage is contemporary. Blue jeans and a nice t-shirt. Maybe a journey vest if needed. Sturdy shoes, no capes or elaborate headgear, unless an ironic statement needs to be made, then a large pointy hat is almost required. No draggy sleeves or hems, no jingly jewelry, and no nudity, either. (People forget that old Gerry Gardner was a nudist, which was where -that- particular directive came from in some Witchy subgroups.)

    There are many ways to acknowledge and honor the Numinous. All are both valid and at the same time wrong- depending on your point of view. Make that point a floating point, and you’ll be OK.

    One Mage is Solitary. Two are an Argument. Get three? Then you’re cookin’…

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